ProPublica launches Surgeon Scorecard outcomes database

ProPublica's tagline is "Journalism in the Public Interest," and in keeping in line with their mission, the independent investigative newsroom has launched a Surgeon Scorecard, an online database allowing consumers to compare the performance of surgeons for common elective procedures.

The Surgeon Scorecard is based on 2009 to 2013 Medicare data released to ProPublica. "We began with the view that the taxpayers who pay the costs of Medicare should be able to use its data to make the best possible decisions about their healthcare," according to ProPublica.

A total of 16,827 surgeons are rated in ProPublica's analysis, and the organization says its intent is not to tarnish the reputations of them in any way. Instead, the information is meant to be a tool for consumers in conversations with physicians about potential operations.

"The data we're making public today has long been in the hands of CMS…CMS and most of the nation's hospitals have taken the view that it's better not to calculate or act on this sort of information, in part because it is so controversial. Though no one says it aloud, the attitude has been that the risk of unfairly tarring any doctor trumps all other considerations," according to ProPublica. "Our reporting suggests that this reluctance to focus on individuals is one reason that patient harm has persisted in the face of considerable effort by the medical establishment."

The organization also said that following the publishing of "To Err is Human," the Institute of Medicine's 1999 study that found at least 44,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors, pushed Congress to develop a nationwide mandatory reporting system for patient deaths and harms to help researchers identify patterns, which has not yet been done.

"Surgeon Scorecard is a crucial step in the larger process of spurring accountability for breakdowns in patient care," according to ProPublica. "We believe it's an important tool for improving patient safety, one that incorporates the rights of patients as well as of doctors."

Users can search for surgeons and hospitals offering the following elective procedures: knee replacement, hip replacement, laparoscopic gallbladder removal, lumbar spinal fusion poster technique, lumbar spinal fusion anterior technique, prostate resection, prostate removal and cervical (neck) spinal fusion.

ProPublica sought the help of a Harvard biostatistics professor to develop a methodology for scoring physicians that would be useful to patients and fair to physicians. The complication rate reported for physicians falls in the middle of a range, accounting for variability and luck, either good or bad. "We designed our online presentation of each surgeon's scorecard to make clear that while higher and lower values are possible, they are increasingly less probable as one moves away from the rate in either direction," according to ProPublica.

To access Surgeon Scorecard, click here.

More articles on clinical outcomes:

Nursing staff happiness dovetails with decreased patient mortality: 6 study findings
Restricting resident work hours does not improve surgical patient safety: 5 things to know
Using electronic diabetes registries for meaningful use improves care

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